Chill Out: Winter Sports in the Valley

Baby, it’s cold outside! But no matter what season it is, Valley dwellers love to get outdoors and play. Whether you’re a skier or a skater; an ice fisher or boater; we’ve got the lowdown on cool places to stay active this winter


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Road cycling has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years. It seems the shoulder of every scenic road in the Valley is occupied by at least one rider pedaling away in the warmer months. But as freezing temperatures, snow, and icy winds creep in, cyclists — at least the most devoted — are relegated to riding the rollers in their living rooms to keep up their fitness. That is, unless they’re out cross-country skiing.

Turns out that in addition to being a super family friendly winter activity, cross-country skiing is the preferred winter sport for many athletes, like Rob Kelley and his friends. While in the more temperate months Kelley is an avid mountain biker and cyclist, come winter he eschews the seemingly more obvious choice of downhill skiing for the Nordic variety. And that’s because it’s hard. “Cross-country skiing is all about the workout,” Kelley enthuses. In the winter, Kelley’s bike shop, Pawling Cycles, specializes in cross-country equipment and rentals. For the cost of one pair of downhill skis, you can buy cross-country skis, boots, bindings, poles, and a day pass to one of the area’s local Nordic ski centers, like Fahnestock. At the popular Cold Spring facility, the daily trail fee is just $9 for adults, $6 for kids; rentals (including boots and poles) are $16. Group lessons run $17 per person; private lessons are $30.

There are two types of Nordic skis: classic and skate. Classic skis are long, parallel skis, and are the best way to get into the sport, according to Kelley. They fare well on ungroomed terrain, and their straightforward back-and-forth glide makes them easier to get the hang of. “You can go right out in your backyard with classic skis,” Kelley says. The shorter, thinner skate skis are built for speed and for use on groomed trails.

The Hudson Valley has several Nordic ski centers, the most popular being Fahnestock and those at Mohonk and Minnewaska state parks. There you’ll have your choice of terrain; everything from flat, wide beginner trails to more remote, challenging routes. Even if you’re just heading for a lap around Fahnestock’s Field Loop, Kelley recommends you bring your A-game. “It’s not really enjoyable unless you have reasonable fitness,” he admits. Unlike downhill skiing, there is no gravity helping you along. And you may do as much ascending as you do descending; there are no chair lifts.

In addition to the cross-country facilities, Kelley highlights Pawling’s Lakeside Park and the golf course at the James Beard Foundation for classic skiing, and the Great Swamp in Patterson which is perfect for skate skiing when if freezes, though that’s usually only one month a year. “The only problem we have locally is that we’re in the ice belt — we haven’t gotten great snow these last five years or so,” laments Kelley. “Still, we get a few dozen days, even in an off year.”

Caption: Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz offers one of the area’s most popular Nordic ski centers

Cross-Country Ski Sites

(Most cross-country facilities list distances in kilometers)

Belleayre Mountain
Highmount. 800-942-6904;
State-run downhill skiing venue has 5.6 miles (9.02 kilometers) of intermittently groomed trails

Fahnestock Winter Park
Cold Spring. 845-225-3998;
Fifteen kilometers (9.3 miles) of groomed trails plus lake; suitable for all abilities. Lodge with food (delicious chili), rentals, lessons

High Point Cross-Country Ski Center
High Point State Park, NJ. 973-702-1222;
Nine miles (15 kilometers) of groomed trails for all levels. Rentals, lessons, and certified ski patrols available. Just over the border from Orange County

Minnewaska State Park Preserve
Twenty miles (32 kilometers) of carriageways of intermittently groomed trails; warming yurt adjacent to upper parking lot; incredible rock formations and views

Mohonk Mountain House
New Paltz.
845-256-2101 ski shop,
845-256-2197 for updates on trails and conditions;
Thirty-five miles (56 kilometers) of groomed trails with magnificent vistas; rentals, lessons

Mountain Trails
Thirty-five kilometers (21.7 miles) of groomed trails; rentals; lessons; open weekends and holiday weeks when conditions permit; warming hut, snack bar

Bear Mountain State Park
Bear Mountain.
Cross-country trails are open all winter in the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area

Clermont State Historic Site
Germantown. 518-537-4240;
Five miles (8 kilometers) of carriage trails

Great Swamp
Six thousand-acre wetland owned by the Nature Conservancy spans Dutchess and Putnam counties

Lakeside Park
Pawling. 845-851-1131
Three hundred-acre town park

James Baird State Park
Pleasant Valley.
Seven miles (11.2 kilometers) of trails and nearby golf course

Mills-Norrie State Park & Dinsmore Golf Course
Staatsburg. 845-889-4646;
Numerous trails, carriage roads, fields, and golf course

Hudson Valley Ski Club
Downhill and cross-country organization

Pawling Cycle & Sport
Offers a weather-dependent January clinic; call ahead


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